Thursday, November 20, 2008

Chicago Day One

The train trip to Chicago went very smoothly. As mentioned in the earlier post, we opted for bedrooms on both trains. Now lest you think these things are huge, they're not. They do include a shower inside the toilet stall, but there was no way that could happen logistically. However, sitting in a comfy seat and watching the world roll by is a very nice way to travel. Once the beds are folded down, let's just say you better not be claustrophobic. The first night it was hard to sleep. My bed was not comfortable and with an existing back problem, it made it worse. However, the second night we were "seasoned" and slept beautifully. We rec'd complimentary meals with the booking and I am happy to report that Amtrak's food was quite tasty. Yum. I think it would have been more fun if the trips had been longer and during more of the daylight hours. That way I could have enjoyed the scenery more. Train travel is definitely on our list of things to do in the future.

We had a brief layover in D.C. The DC train station was designed by Daniel Hudson Burnham, a name that will crop up later in my posts. Burnham was one of the key Chicago architects in the late 1800's and early 1900's. Union Station (see above) is an example of his incredible work. Right now the station is decked out for Christmas and quite festive.

We were met by my good friend and traveling buddy Jean Marie Ward. JMW took us on a mini tour so my husband could get an idea of what the town felt like. Fortunately, she took pity on us as we were still suffering from our colds so there was walking, then resting. In the Capitol picture, if your eyesight is good, you'll pick out the reviewing stands being built for the Inauguration. We dined at an incredible restaurant that served succulent crab cakes resting on top of field greens topped with mango salsa. WOW. Then we were back on the train and on the way to Chicago. I admit, I took a nap after we boarded. I hadn't quite realized how run down I was before we reached DC.

We arrived at our hotel far too early for check-in and so we checked our bags with the friendly porter. The Silversmith Hotel is housed in a building designed by, no surprise, Daniel Burnham. It was created for the silver and jewelry trade and there are still a number of jewelers on the street. Our accommodations are as huge as the train car was compact. Two rooms, massive bathroom and it overlooks the "El" the elevated train system that runs Chicago's Loop. No doubt some might object to the noise of the El as it pulls out of the station below our window, but after the other trains we hardly noticed.

Burnham, along with his partner John Root, were involved in the design and execution of the World's Columbian Exposition (1893) . This fair was a wonder and if I could go back in time I'd be there in a flash. All that is left of the 600 acre Jackson Park complex, besides the park, is the building that now houses the Museum of Science and Industry. Originally serving as the Palace of Fine Arts, it was designed by Charles B. Atwood of New York. Unlike almost all of the fair buildings, which were of a temporary, yet ornate nature, this behemoth was permanent and fireproof because of the valuable art treasures it displayed during the fair. Atwood's design is classic Greek and at the time it cost $541,795 to build. The main part of the building is 320 x 500 foot but included two 120 x 200 foot wings. Fortunately this beauty is still with us, teasing us as to what the entire 600 acres of statues, massive buildings, ponds, fountains, etc. would have looked like. Like I said earlier -- give me a time machine and I'm there. According to those in the know, it took over THREE weeks to see every exhibit at the fair. Unreal.

We immediately set off like a local: we took the bus. A tourist pass got us on and off and it was a easy trip. We thoroughly enjoyed the museum, geeks that we are. Harold's favorite was the Pioneer Zephr (see the webpage link above.)

We took our evening meal at a pub up the street. I didn't realize how packed Chicago eating places could be at seven in the evening. It was like Friday or Saturday evening in Atlanta. We waited about a half an hour for a table, polished off a fine meal and a couple beers each. Then we crashed, literally and figuratively.


steve said...

Chicago Union Station, opened in 1925, was also a Daniel Burnham design, though Burnham died before the building was finished.

One thing about Superliner and Viewliner bedrooms: the beds are perpendicular to the direction of the train, which makes sleep difficult for many. I usually sleep better in a coach seat or in a roomette, where you ride forward or backward, but not sideways.

One Chicago peculiarity, though an influx of New Yorkers has chipped away at it: it's the L, not the El.

Jana Oliver said...

Alas, Chicago's station doesn't look as cool as DC's. When I was last through there 20+ years ago I remember it as being truly awesome. Both the hubby and I were surprised that it looked ho hum this time around. DC rocked. One of these days we'll check out NY's Grand Central just for fun.

I peered into a roomette, but lordy are those things small! Probably great for a short trip and certainly more affordable than a bedroom, but definitely compact. It took a bit to get used to the fact we were sleeping perpendicular, as you put it, but by the second night we slept very well.

I can't wait to try one of the trains from Seattle to Chicago. That outta be a beautiful trip. I really like the idea of not being sardined into a seat and I didn't have to take my shoes off for security. Huzzah.